The first two episodes of Bad Sisters will debut on Apple TV+ on Aug. 19, followed by one episode weekly on Fridays.
The whodunnit genre has been turned upside down and inside out over the decades, and creators are still finding ways to entertain and confound audiences. Rian Johnson’s highly anticipated Knives Out sequel premieres next month at the Toronto Film Festival, and the charming Only Murders in the Building is currently riding a second-season high. Now, Sharon Horgan joins the crime fray with a 10-part dark comedy/family drama blend that delivers on multiple fronts. Bad Sisters continues Apple TV+’s very good 2022 and is another must-see offering from the streamer.
Eva Garvey (Horgan) is the oldest of five sisters who experienced a profound loss and have been fiercely protective of each other since. The youngest sibling, Becka (Eve Hewson), is nearly 30, but from the outset, Eva is established as the de facto matriarch — particularly with Becka. Now, another death in the family binds them, but sister Grace (Anne-Marie Duff) is left out in the cold because her husband, John Paul (Claes Bang), also referred to as JP, is the recently deceased. “She can’t find out what we did,” Eva ominously intones. Yes, we know who died, but the absence of other facts (including how JP passed away and who did the deed) immediately pulls you into the mystery.
“The Prick” is both the premiere’s title and how the sisters refer to their brother-in-law in life and death. The Garveys are a unit and at times move as one, but they all have enough space to exist singularly, which is shown early on in each introduction. Rounding out the ensemble are two half-brothers investigating JP’s death to see if the life insurance claim is valid. I don’t want to go too much into plot specifics, but suffice, there is much more to this story than meets the eye. The timeline toggles between the present and events from the prior six months that led to “the prick’s” death. Non-linear storytelling dishes out information without withholding too much or moving too quickly, and the pacing rarely becomes frustrating in what is conveniently left unsaid.
Horgan’s critically beloved Catastrophe demonstrates an ability to deftly walk the line between funny and heavier themes. Similarly, Bad Sisters is adept at covering the spectrum of emotions punctuated with razor-sharp dialogue. Some of the biggest laughs come from the darkest moments and will take you by surprise, but that is the brilliance of Horgan’s work. Crying and laughing can be inextricable, and what the Garvey sisters go through (and enact) has plenty of both.
Bibi (Sarah Greene) and Ursula (Eva Birthistle) complete the quintet, and each woman is well-rounded outside their sibling dynamic. No one is given short shrift screen time-wise, and while the broad brushstrokes are apparent immediately, there is room for nuance and an exploration of flaws without sinking into cliches of “oh, she’s the mean one.” From their traditional swim at Dublin’s legendary Forty Foot — no show has made me want to jump into the cold Irish Sea more than this one — to the nights drinking copious margaritas, there is a sense of history and familial love.
Some of the sisters’ storylines are stronger than others, and Ursula’s dilemma does lean into the repetitive side. That is a minor quibble, and Birthistle is compelling even if the back-and-forth of her arc is less so. Out of the sisters, it is Hewson (who first shined in The Knick), as Becka, who is the standout — grappling with being the baby and the screw-up of the family. Dealing with despair and being the life of the party are two threads Hewson performs equally well, and her struggles in the second half of the season cut to the core.
Insurance agents Tom (Brian Gleeson) and Matt Claffin (Daryl McCormack), meanwhile, don’t share the same affinity for each other as the sisters they are investigating. Their complicated past is awash with lingering doubts, enhancing the dueling storylines. The stakes are equally high for the Claffins, and sympathy shifts throughout the series. Whereas the Garveys are bound as one, the Claffins are more frayed around the edges. They quickly become exasperated with the other, but the surface-level thorniness is a defense mechanism. Family and the lengths these characters will go to protect their loved ones is a recurring theme that even the Claffins cannot escape.
Gleeson is a chaotic ball of frazzled energy as the desperate Tom, who is doing everything in his power to ensure his heavily pregnant wife Theresa (Seána Kerslake) isn’t going to deliver their baby into an unstable home. On doctor’s orders, Theresa is confined to her bed. Still, as with Catastrophe before it, there are moments between expectant parents that tap into the fear of heading into this unknown adventure, which is another source of unexpected humor. This role requires an actor of a certain caliber to avoid becoming an annoying pest. In persistence and desperation, Gleeson never loses the charm he shares with his actor brother (Domhnall) and father (Brendan).
“Alright, Columbo,” Matt quips to his brother at the suggestion something is awry with JP’s death, and if you’re going to lean into the whodunnit, then you might as well reference the best. This exchange is indicative of the Claffin relationship, and scenes in their cramped car showcase the apparent differences between each man. It might be breezy and jokey on the surface, but resentment and compassion create a potent cocktail that adds another layer to the overall story.
A meet-cute in the first episode lets Matt’s romantic side shine, and McCormack is someone to look out for as it isn’t just his big green eyes that are enchanting. Elements that he shares with one of the Garveys in how their siblings see them make this pairing one that excels beyond the noticeable heat between them. Loyalty becomes a big part of this dynamic and ups the tension whenever this quasi-Romeo and Juliet couple gets near each other.
The Biggest New TV Shows and Seasons Coming in 2022
Marriage is another recurring theme, with Grace’s union offering a dark portrait. “He’s sucking the life out of her,” Eva warns about their sister’s predicament. Each installment gives insight into why JP is despised and portrays insidious emotional abuse. Bang doesn’t stray into mustache-twirling villainy, and it is rare to see a depiction of manipulation, coercion, and gaslighting go this far on TV. The lengths he goes to are nauseating, and some of JP’s power games were excruciating to watch. These moments, while being tough to stomach, offer a reminder that abusers have different methods to exert dominance without ever having to lift a finger.
Scenes in which JP is at his worst are balanced out by the support system between these women (including Grace and JP’s teen daughter), and the show based on the Belgian series Clan by Malin-Sarah Gozin is a captivating exploration of what goes on behind closed doors.
Each home feels particularly suited to the character who lives there, and production designer Mark Geraghty makes a point of making the homes feel lived in — or not — depending on the residence. While some give off model home vibes, others have stacks of dishes or toys to realistically reflect the family who lives there.
A crime story is all in the intricate specifics; Bad Sisters excels in its aesthetic as much as the performances and plot. Shot on location in Ireland, there are many impressive coastline vistas, a pivotal cabin in the woods setting, rural homes, and suburban locations. In fact, the Republic of Ireland tourist board should be thrilled as it is enough to make me want to jump on a plane (and not only to dive into the Irish Sea).
Other details to pay attention to are the Rube Goldberg machine in the opening credits and the theme song by PJ Harvey. Covering a Leonard Cohen track like “Who By Fire” sets a high bar, and it is one that Harvey more than surpasses as a mood setter and an earworm (I have had it stuck in my head for days). Costume designer Camille Benda emphasizes each sister’s personal style, but there are several overlapping looks and borrowed items add to the lived-in quality of the dynamics.
While shows like Big Little Lies and Dead to Me have offered variations on these themes, Bad Sisters is still a breath of fresh air. A few minor lags at the midway point don’t drag the well-paced mystery unspooling down, and overall, the 10-part series has me rooting for the Garveys and Claffins (sometimes). The conclusion is satisfying, and there are plenty of surprises and shocks along the way. Some moments walk toward the edge of how far you can watch these characters go, yet it doesn’t tip over the line into the moral abyss.
Every Cancelled and Ending TV Show Announced in 2022